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The right not to kill

  • 08 September 2008

Medicare-funded abortion is readily available to women in all Australian jurisdictions. In some states, the criminal law on abortion has been developed by the judges. It is known as common law. The majority of Australian parliaments have now changed or at least clarified the common law, ensuring the legality of widespread abortion practices.

Victoria is about to follow this trend, debating the Abortion Law Reform Bill this week. But the pro-abortion lobby has decided to take things three steps further than other jurisdictions like Western Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory have in recent years. It is quite a try on, under cover of the claim that the Victorian bill 'acknowledges and reflects community attitudes and current clinical practice'.

The Bill seeks to break new ground by: permitting abortion, regardless of the interests of the foetus, up to 24 weeks; dispensing with the need for informed consent provisions which would give all women the opportunity to consider their decision, and which would protect vulnerable young women being pressured into having an abortion by relatives or those who have abused them; requiring health professionals with a conscientious objection to abortion to participate in abortion in some circumstances, and requiring doctors with a conscientious objection always to refer a woman seeking an abortion to another doctor known not to have a conscientious objection.

This third and most novel item of the trifecta is to be enacted in the flash new rights jurisdiction of Victoria with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms which boasts that 'A person must not be coerced in a way that limits his or her freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching.'

I will offer a comment on each item of the Victorian trifecta.

Late-term abortions

The Victorian Government's Department of Human Services publishes a detailed manual for dealing with road trauma. When emergency staff are dealing with a pregnant woman in a traffic accident, they have to consider if the foetus is viable. The manual advises: 'Foetus is not viable pre-22 weeks (probably 24 weeks). If the foetus is beyond 24 weeks gestation, obstetric backup at a Major Trauma Service is mandatory.'

It is now commonplace for 23-week foetuses to be born and nurtured in Melbourne hospitals. Peter Costello is not alone in his weekend quandary: 'I can't believe that there is a proposal to make abortion legal